By 2017, the world will increase its coal consumption by more than 1.2 billion tons per year — equivalent to the current coal use of the U.S. and Russia combined. That’s according to a new report on the booming coal sector from the International Energy Agency.
Many have hailed the drop in U.S. coal consumption over the last year as a modestly positive trend for climate; however, that decrease is being overshadowed by a boom in developing countries, particularly China. The IEA projects that China will account for 70 percent of coal consumption by 2017:
Coal accounted for 45 percent of global CO2 emissions in 2011. Without a slowdown in coal consumption, China’s carbon emissions hockey stick is about to get a lot sharper. Here’s what it looks like already:
The same could be true in India as well, a country that will account for 22 percent of growth in coal consumption. According to a recent report from the World Resources Institute, there are more than 1,200 coal plants planned around the world, most of which will be built in China and India. If all the plants in the pipeline are built, they would amount to a generation capacity four times greater than the current American coal fleet.
Here are some key stats reported by the IEA in its latest assessment:
- Coal demand is growing everywhere but the United States. The trend of the last decade continued in 2011, with coal supplying near half of the incremental primary energy supply globally. Coal demand grew 4.3% in 2011, or 304 million tonnes (mt). Chinese demand grew by 233 mt. The only region where coal demand declined was the United States. That drop is neither policy-driven nor a consequence of recession but rather the result of the availability of cheap gas.
- Even though coal demand growth is slowing, coal’s share of the global energy mix is still rising, and by 2017 coal will come close to surpassing oil as the world’s top energy source. The world will burn around 1.2 billion more tonnes of coal per year by 2017 compared with today. That’s more than the current annual coal consumption of the United States and Russia combined.
- China has become the largest coal importer in the world. In 2009, China became a net coal importer for the first time. In 2011, it became the largest coal importer, surpassing Japan, which had held the position for decades. Chinese imports (including Hong Kong) reached 204 mt in 2011 and they continued to grow in 2012.
- Indonesia has become the largest coal exporter in the world. As another example of the increasing weight of non-OECD countries, Indonesia surpassed long-standing leader Australia as the largest exporter on a tonnage basis. Floods in Queensland in 2010-2011 constrained Australian exports, while Indonesia growth did not stop, surpassing the 300 mt line.
As both the World Bank and the International Energy Agency have pointed out in recent scientific summaries, we are on a path toward disastrous climate change — and only a dramatic re-thinking of policies can set us on a path toward manageable warming.